Kongjaban (Korean Sweet Black Beans)

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Kongjaban is one of the many banchan, or small plates, put in front of you at a Korean restaurant before your meal.  I remarked on the multitude and tastiness of banchan several times during my travels, although I didn’t yet know its proper name.  Similar to bread at an American restaurant, banchan doesn’t need to be ordered and can be refilled many times at no expense to the patron.  Banchan is meant to be a complement to the meal, and usually involves an assortment of vegetables tossed with sesame oil or pickled in kimchi.

Kongjaban is the Korean preparation for black beans.  Unlike any other beans I’ve ever had, kongjaban is not soft or mushy.  Rather, the beans are dense and chewy.  They’re also sweet and salty, and thus wildly addictive.

The landlord has remarked for months that kongjaban contains such a simple list of ingredients, surely I could make it.  I’ve been skeptical and somewhat intimidated.  What do I know about Korean cooking?  I was finally nudged enough that I looked into it.  Happily, the landlord was right — kongjaban is a snap to make.

Bring one cup of dried black beans (rinsed and picked over for stray pebbles or broken beans) and one cup of water to a boil.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  Turn down the heat to low and add 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon sesame oil.  Stir to combine and cook for 15 more minutes.  Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds (optional).  Allow to cool before serving.

Kongjaban is traditionally served at room temperature, but over the past week I’ve had it several ways: hot, cold, and various shades between.  I find I like it warm or room temperature best.  Feel free to play around with the temperature and serve it at your preference.

A note on the water: my beans started to smell as if they were burning, which worried me.  I added more water directly from the faucet so I couldn’t say how much precisely (probably 1/4 – 1/2 cup).  I stirred them regularly to prevent sticking or burning.  The result was rather brothy beans, which was a bonus: I used the broth a couple times during the week to flavor other dishes (sticky sweet soy sauce, yes please).  I wouldn’t worry about adding too much water here, as the end result can always be drained.

Also, they were quite sweet and quite salty.  Delicious,to be certain, but both the soy and the sugar could be toned down at no expense to the overall flavor.  I’ll probably use 1/3 cup of each in the future.

Go forth and make kongjaban!  You’ll be glad you did.

Recipe via About.com.

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